Written by Ophelia Buckleton
In 2007, after 22 years in banking, Gillian Dudgeon made the move into risk management at ANZ Bank, or what she so avidly describes as the ‘dark side’.
Perhaps this statement was somewhat of a premonition, as the moment Gillian took the reigns, the global financial crisis struck.
“After years in roles which were about selling to customers’ needs and maximizing opportunities, the rules of the game changed. Our staff found themselves spending all day talking to customers who felt under stress and pressure.”
This string of events led Gillian to enter the Leadership NZ Programme in 2008. “It was an absolutely amazing opportunity to spend quality time over a year with a very diverse group of individuals.”
Gillian laughingly recalls the challenge of being partnered with a dancer and choreographer, whose creative background proved polar-opposite to her financial one. However it was experiences as such that provided a much stronger platform for Gillian to stand as a leader, managing teams which inevitably stem from diverse backgrounds. “The Programme allowed us to stand in other peoples shoes…which helped me think more broadly during these difficult times and to challenge the status quo.”
It is this power of diversity, of thinking and ideas, that Gillian says was the most important thing she took from the Programme. “Never take anyone at face value. We got to meet such a diverse array of speakers and attendees that I would never have normally met. It got me to view leadership through a very different lens.”
For Gillian the Programme provided the impetus for a sea change. Although this did not come immediately, Gillian says the Programme was influential in her decision to leave “the safer world of banking.” In 2013 Gillian joined the Earthquake Commission. Despite her nervousness of entering an unfamiliar world, she says the Programme challenged her to expand her horizons as such and explore the world.
Gillian acknowledges that there are no “quick fixes to rebuilding a city”. “There are some very challenging days, but Leadership NZ supported me to increase my resilience which really is a core competency for working at EQC.” It is Gillian’s ability to see the immense devastation in Christchurch, as an opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives, which distinguishes her as a fearless leader.
Gillian believes that in order to be fearless one must stand on their own for what they believe. “You can sometimes doubt yourself during these times, and they don’t always go smoothly, but that’s always part of the challenge.”
“Nothing is impossible and we can always learn and change. Feeling out of your depth is okay, but you need support around you and sometimes this comes from unexpected places.”
It is exactly this fearlessness that Gillian says allowed her to step out of the bank and embrace the opportunity of working with an eclectic mix of people driven by a social cause - to rebuild and support Canterbury. “I also now have two colleagues who have done the Leadership NZ Programme, which is awesome!”
Since graduating in 2008, Gillian’s ongoing connection with Leadership NZ has allowed her the opportunity to participate on several interview panels. “It is so much fun to see and help shape the next intake. It also provides a great opportunity to catch up with other graduates of the Programme, all with a common bond.”
Gillian’s advice for future leaders is just as humbling, wise and genuine as she is herself. “Expose yourself to as many different environments, people and places you can. Leave New Zealand so you can really appreciate what we have here on our doorstep. This will also enable you to bring back ‘different thinking’ which will contribute to NZ’s success in the future.”
Gillian says she has been able to encourage her two children to go out into the world, to explore, experience and chase their dreams. “The Programme taught me to take the time to understand and get lots of different perspectives before making decisions. Don’t assume anything. This is such an important lesson we need to use everyday."